Thursday, July 30, 2009

current obsessions

Thought this would be a fun thing to do every so often! My current obsessions, in no particular order:

These have been at my Whole Foods all summer, and I finally decided to stray from my usual Granny Smiths. Oh my. They are juicy and sweet and simply heavenly. I think they may be a decent addition for a Green Monster, since they are sweeter than most other kinds of apples.

We are hooked! I am constantly trying to think of different versions. We don't go for the fancy shmancy health food add-ins, like flax seeds or hemp powder...the most we have done is add some Sun Warrior protein powder to make this more of a meal replacement. I think peanut butter is the best addition by far gives the GM a wonderful creamy texture and nutty flavor. I'm too cheap for almond butter, but perhaps we'll give it a go one of these days.

Homemade ice cream & sorbets

I don't think I realized the true splendor of the fabled Kitchenaid stand mixer until we bought the ice cream maker attachment. It is WONDERFUL and so easy to use. You simply place the entire bowl in the freezer for at least 15-20 hours, and prepare whatever frozen mix you'd like! I have made a fro-yo to die for, and a few different mango-based sorbets with super ripe mangoes that we had laying around. Eventually I'll work up to actual ice creams (they are a bit more need to use the stove *gasp*). Get one and never look back!

I had eyed this class for a while, and finally decided to try it. Whoa. After the first day I was pretty much incapacitated for a week. I'm talking waddling down the street and being unable to lower myself onto the couch without wincing in pain. I've now worked up to going twice a week. The 45-minute class is a full-body workout - targeting your core, shoulders, back, legs, butt, the end you are sweating and your heart is racing, but you feel amazingly empowered. Kellie Roman teaches the class and she is a freaking star...her body is sick and she motivates you while pretty much doing every movement with the class. Think it looks easy? Try doing this after 40 minutes of squats and lunges! I've been wanting to incorporate weights into my workout routine again, and this is a great way to do so!

So You Think You Can Dance

I had given up on Fox and it's 'reality' competitions ever since Chris Daughtry got booted off America Idol and that buffoon Taylor Hicks won. Until I started watching SYTYCD. It feeds my lifelong fantasy of being an amazing dancer (or being able to dance for that matter), and I am always wowed by the routines. The judges never seem to be posturing or putting on a show...their commentary is usually good and on point (except for Nigel's recent comment about Evan's 'heavy eyelids', wtf was that about?) I think Kayla and Brandon are the clear front-runners and favorites of the judges, but Jeanine is who I'm rooting for...she's powerful, graceful, humble, and has nailed just about every routine.

Summer Thunderstorms

Trying to turn a negative into a positive here. We've reached the point of the season where it starts to get unbearably humid and hazy. The regular afternoon thunderstorms are a bit tough to deal with (what is this, Miami?) but there is something so cool about a strong summer storm. The sudden blackness, silence, and calm breeze ahead of the storm...the sheets of rain that can seem to move sideways, the constant lightning that turns the sky orange...and the clear, clean air once it's done shortly after. Ever notice the sky and sunset after a good storm? It's seriously beautiful.

I am loving prints this summer! Florals, geometric patterns, plaids...even animal prints! I have been looking for a way to freshen up my closet a bit and make outfits more interesting, without having to rely on crazy accessories. These are just a few of the things that I love.

This is really the best time to stock up on swim basics, shorts, and flip flops. Did I get any of these from J Crew? No! But I did snag many other adorable items that have sent J Crew bloggers into a tizzy over the past season. I have yet to find a solid explanation for it, but popular items tend to randomly 'pop-back' onto the site. Seasoned J Crew online shoppers know to log on early and quickly scan the sale section for popular marked-down pop-backs...often there are just one or two in stock, and you're lucky if it's your size. Sadly, they probably aren't doing any more additional % off markdowns, but it's still fun to see what's in stock before summer goes buh-bye, and stock up on pieces that could transition into fall.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

recipe review: sesame peanut noodles

Review: Nigella does it again! Super simple to make, and easy to swap out or substitute ingredients. Don't worry about making such a large gets better with time!

My family went through a Chinese food phase for a few years, during which we dined at Szechuan Garden (and eventually Hunan Gourmet once SG became an Italian place) every Saturday night. We would pretty much always order the same dishes, and I would always pick out every single piece of baby corn as soon as said dishes were set on the table. My baby brother was young enough where I trumped him, and having never had the opportunity to snag a piece of baby corn (I was a quick little thing), he never really knew what he was missing.

This recipe doesn't include baby corn (you can groan at my seemingly useless anecdote now), but it should! Next time I plan on including copious amounts. In fact, you can easily swap out or substitute ingredients as you wish...especially any veggies you like or don't like. The hardest part is cutting the vegetables, and maybe whisking if your wrists just don't move that way. The final product comes close to a decent Pad Thai dish you can order at any number of cheap Thai or Asian delivery joints, but since you control the ingredients, you know you aren't getting anything too sketchy.

Sauce Ingredients:
*1 T sesame oil
*1 T garlic-infused oil [Or just mince some garlic into oil and let it sit for a few minutes. I used olive oil and did not notice any funky taste because of it. You could probably use canola oil as well.]
*1 T soy sauce [I used a low-sodium version.]
*2 T sweet chile sauce
*1/3 cup peanut butter [I used a natural, chunky one from Whole Foods.]
*2 T lime juice [1-2 limes, juiced]

Pasta Ingredients:
*1 1/4 lbs. cooked egg noodles [Cook al dente or just under. I used whole wheat linguine from Whole Foods.]
*2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed [I forgot to rinse mine...don't tell Husband]
*1 1/2 cups snow peas [We forgot to buy these, but they would provide a satisfying crunch.]
*1 red pepper, seeded and diced
*2 scallions, finely sliced [I used 5 scallions and just diced them randomly.]
*1/4 cup sesame seeds [Buy a tub and it will last you forever.]
*1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro [Omitted because we always seem to waste the extra cilantro after completing a recipe.]

1) Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a bowl or small pitcher.
[I did not think the dressing would be enough to cover all of the ingredients, so I doubled the dressing recipe.]
2) Put the noodles, bean sprouts, snow peas, red pepper, and scallions into a bowl. [I added the sesame seeds as well.]
3) Pour over the dressing and mix thoroughly to coat everything well.
4) Sprinkle with sesame seeds and cilantro and pack up as needed.

wedding review:
{Website to design/create your wedding website}
Review: Very user-friendly and organized...offers a ton of styles and potential categories. Especially good for 'website dummies' like myself (i.e., it's idiotproof) - it takes the guesswork out of trying to organize things yourself.

I am a planner who needs as many details as possible in advance - especially when we travel. In my humble opinion, you really can't have too much information (ok maybe you can, but more on that later...). Because we had so many out-of-town guests, having all of our wedding-related details in one accessible place was important. August is also a peak travel time to/from the NY/NJ area, and I wanted to ensure that guests had plenty of time to book plane tickets.

Weddingwindow was recommended to me by a friend who had planned her own destination wedding in Mexico. We had such a positive experience using it throughout our planning process! We opted for the 18-month plan, which costs $99. We also chose to pay an additional fee for our own domain name - is much easier to remember than

The good:
*There are tons of styles and backgrounds to choose from - even more now than when we started back in 2008. You aren't boxed into a floral background or hearts aflutter. We chose an 'ethnic-looking' background that was perfect for an Indian wedding!
*The true gems of WW are its organizational categories. There were categories I hadn't even thought of (if you can believe it), beyond the standard 'Our Story' or 'Wedding events.' For example, you can add an online RSVP to save paper or add some Puzzles and Games to help your guests get to know you. You can also add your own categories (we added one for wedding events, since we were having a second and separate reception in Miami). One of our favorite features was having a 'What's New' pop-up window come up every time a guest came to the site. We were able to add reminders about booking deadlines, and link guests to our engagement pictures once added.
*The pricing timelines are pretty long, with an option to extend your time afterwards for a small, additional fee.
*WW has some great picture hosting capabilities! We uploaded at least 100 pics from our engagement ceremony with no problems, and later, some pics from the wedding ceremony and reception.
*You can password-protect your website. We didn't do this, just to keep things simple, but for many I'm sure the feature would be useful.
*You can include direct links to your online registries. Please don't be one of those people that lists the registries on the invitation (while many wedding faux pas have become outdated, I think this one still stands)!
*Music! You can include several songs on the website!

The not-so-good:
*It's not a free service, which may be a problem for some. However, I believe it's completely worth the money, considering the organizational features and picture-hosting abilities you get. I'm sure there are free services out there, but I doubt they are as comprehensive as WW.

*Keep your family in the loop about your website, and ask them to spread the word. Whenever people asked our parents about directions or events, they always referred people to the website. Soon, everyone was checking it regularly!
*Make the website soon as you book your location and know the date! If you want to send out save-the-dates, it's a good idea to get cracking on the website so you can include the url on your save-the-dates.
*Keep the site as informative and up-to-date as possible. In the beginning, if you have the location and date, you can include these, as well as some basic travel information if you have guests flying in. We had a ton of friends coming via train (NJ Transit or Amtrak), so we uploaded the train schedules in pdf form to the site, and some basic maps of the area.
*We kept things relatively simple, choosing the following categories: Welcome, Bride and Groom, Our Story, Family, Then and Now, NJ wedding events, Miami events, Travel Information, Accommodations, Local Activities, Gift registries, Guestbook, Photo Album, FAQs. Honeymoon info felt a little too personal to dish out to our hundreds of guests, but we're also very private people.
[I have seen wedding websites where the bride will discuss her dress and shoe options, makeup or hair ideas, etc. In my opinion, these have NO place on your wedding website, which is really meant for your guests. Additionally, I would never have posted pics of my design or floral want to make an impact and keep things a surprise! My advice would be to make a planning blog and keep the 2 sites separate.]
*People LOVE to see pics of you when you were younger, so we included a handful of our baby and kid pictures. We also had several family pics, so that our guests would recognize the important people of the day!
*If you can, I would opt for the longest length plan possible. We were engaged for just about 1 year, and the 18-month option was perfect for us! After the wedding, many people wrote in our Guestbook congratulating us and saying what a wonderful time they had!

A nice bonus of our website was that it allowed our relatives in India to feel connected to our events, since most of them were unable to attend. The website had enough personal and wedding-related details to help our guests feel connected to us and our families even before the actual day! Similarly, posting pictures from the NJ and Miami events kept the 2 sets of guests informed about everything we had planned. A wedding website is usually very much appreciated by your guests...don't bother with trying to create your own or joining a cheap service...I urge you to try will have EVERYTHING you need!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

wedding review: Elegant Affairs (decor)

Elegant Affairs
Review: One of our best vendors! We were thrilled with how everything turned out, and they were a real pleasure to work with.

After I had secured our location and photographer, I set out to book our decorator. It was an easy choice, since I knew I wanted Elegant Affairs. For an Indian wedding, the mandap is the focal point for the wedding. The wedding ceremony takes place inside this structure, and most couples also use it to house a sweetheart or wedding party table for the reception. I had a vision of a mandap swathed in beautiful, beaded fabric along its length and from the ceiling, and I also wanted an open mandap structure. The basic requirement of a mandap is that it have 4 pillars...we have, in the past, sat in an awkward spot of the audience and found our view of the ceremony obstructed by a pillar. I wanted all of our guests to have a good view of the ceremony...elevating the mandap on a stage and having an open structure would accomplish this.

Elegant Affairs is, quite simply, one of the best Indian decorators around. Started by a trio of sisters, the business has grown over the years to include an outpost in Texas along with their tri-state flagships. Shobha was our main liaison, and we were SO happy with her. Our meetings were always accompanied by chai and sweets, and I felt like she really listened to my vision. We were going for simple elegance, with focal points that made a statement, and I think EA ended up accomplishing that beautifully. Below is a list of pros/cons, as well as some tips on covering your decor.

The good:
*From the first meeting where we put down a deposit, to the wedding weekend, Elegant Affairs & Shobha were nothing but professional. Every time we added or subtracted something, a new and itemized pricing contract was drawn up. There were no hidden costs...everything was easily outlined. They also keep you on track as far as timing; for example, making sure you reserve your mandap well in advance, or deciding on the flower arrangements so they can order the bulk.
*They were very honest about pricing with us. It's so easy to add some flowers here or flourishes there, but everything adds up. While Elegant Affairs is not the cheapest, they will work with just about any budget.
*I loved that they were a one-stop shop...they handled just about every aspect of my decor, from the flower arrangements, to the mandap, and even the chargers on the reception tables. This made it incredibly easy to deal with decor, especially planning from a distance.
*Their warehouse is HUGE, and they will gladly walk you through it. I was even allowed to handpick certain items that I wanted for our wedding (e.g., our chairs for the mandap, and the fabric that served as our inspiration for the cocktail hour).
*They really listen to what you want and your vision for your day, while gently giving their opinion to steer you in the right direction.
*Within reason, they can accommodate requests. We needed about 200 carnations at the last minute to hand out to guests prior to the wedding ceremony. Shobha added it to our list and set them up for us with no problems.
*They had worked with our hotel before; like our caterer, they were able to communicate behind the scenes. A part of the mandap canopy had to be attached to the ceiling, which the hotel did not have a problem with (not so for our Miami reception oy!)

The not-so-good (hardly any!):
*Make sure you always meet with your main liaison. Once, I had to meet with Shobha's sister and while she was very nice, I felt as if I was starting from square one, since she wasn't as familiar with what I liked, my vision, or our budget.
*It is important that you come with your own ideas, and pictures of what you want! I found that if you don't have a clear sense of what you want, or at least have pictures, is a bit more difficult to get your vision across.
*They are a bit limited to what's available in their warehouse. Now, keep in mind, the warehouse is HUGE and their supply of props, etc. is varied and unique. Additionally, they are constantly ordering new supplies from India and elsewhere to keep the designs fresh.

*It helps to book the decorator and/or florist well in advance of the wedding day, so you have the opportunity to secure what you need or modify your plans. Shobha was willing to order things for us, but would have needed extra time to do so.
*Bring along a rough estimate of your budget. Things like flowers and linens can add up quickly, and you'll want to get a realistic sense of what you can get for your $.
*Be honest about what you like and don't like. I didn't want super bright colors for the wedding or reception, but did want something fun for the cocktail hour. We went with a elegant gold and creams, accented by green, for the wedding and reception...and orange and bright pink for the cocktail hour.
*To that end, it is truly helpful to bring along pictures for inspiration that you've grabbed from wedding magazines or the web.
*Look through their portfolio to get a sense of their style. Elegant Affairs had tons of books showcasing their work, and we had heard about their great reputation from several people. However, I did like to see what they had done in the past...even borrowing here and there from designs I loved.
*If you have big flower arrangements, it's ok to reuse them for another event. We had big arrangements down the wedding aisle and along the mandap...these were reused in our centerpiece arrangements and sweetheart table later. At first, I had this crazy idea that I wanted totally different looks, and then I saw the price tag of each arrangement! You'll save money, and no one will even notice (or care)!

As you can see, I really loved how everything turned out! I think our guests were wowed by the designs, but nothing was over-the-top or garish. I'll end with 2 pics...our centerpiece for the placecards (yes it's a flower elephant!), and our 'tall' reception table centerpieces.

Friday, July 24, 2009

wedding tips: choosing the paparazzi

After we had settled on the location, I set out to research photographers. We were willing to spend a bit more in this area, so I really wanted someone good (and the good ones get booked early during wedding season)! We met with both Indian and non-Indian photographers. I was leaning toward a non-Indian photographer, while my parents wanted an Indian photographer. A traditional Indian wedding is so intricate, with so many important details...they were worried an 'outsider' would fail to capture the nuances of our ceremony. I felt that many of the Indian photographers I checked out tended to be 'cookie cutter'...most trained in India and had some pretty old-school photography styles. Nothing different, nothing artistic, and kind of cheesy!

While I was willing to try something different, it was important that my photographer had done at least a few Indian weddings so that they knew a little bit of the culture, tradition, etc. I also wanted to choose a photography company that had an in-house videographer. Not only did I not have the time to try and track down a separate videographer, but I also wanted the video and photography to be as seamless as possible. Too often, you hear stories about a photog and videog clashing (this, in fact, occurred at our second reception in Miami!) It was also imperative that I be able to keep all electronic proofs after the wedding. It still boggles my mind that people pay so much for a photographer at their wedding events, and they don't even get to keep the pictures! I love the idea of picking through pics that don't make it to my wedding album and someday creating a few 'fun' albums on my own.

Personal recommendations are a great way to start! Wedding photographers come in all shapes and sizes - from large ones devoted exclusively to weddings, to independent photographers that operate alone. It really depends on what kind of pictures you want, as well as your budget. Many times, the independent photographers will have better rates (but not always) with some room for negotiation, and you can get to know them fairly well. On the other hand, larger companies can offer additional photographers if you have a larger wedding (we ended up having 3 photographers for the day, and they did a wonderful job of capturing everything). Independent photographers often take more risks and their photos are more 'artsy.' In all honesty, I would have loved to find someone like this, but being a full-time student located 3 hours from home made it difficult to do the kind of searching I would have liked!

When you have your first meeting with the photog, try and get a feel for them and their personality. The more comfortable you are with your photog, the better your pics will turn out in the end. Look through their portfolio; if they have worked at your specific location, ask if you could see those pics as well. I not only looked through our photog's albums, but I also asked to see the Indian weddings they've shot. I got to see a few different albums, as well as a completed video. Price out your options - particularly if you are upgrading things in your album or asking for a photographer at, say, your rehearsal dinner as well. Our photog didn't give us much wiggle room - everything was an additional, and up-front fee - and the total was much more than we expected when we did the final tally. As for us, after some convincing (and visiting some Indian photographers whose rates were outrageous), my parents felt comfortable with my photog/videog choice, and we booked them! People are amazed at the teaser photos we have (we have yet to finalize our album - for shame!), and I know the albums will be even more amazing!

Don't be shy about asking many questions! Here are a few to get started:
*What are your packages priced at?
*How flexible is each package? Can I add (say, a second full album), or subtract (no thank you cards)?
*Do you offer an engagement session? Where? Is there an additional charge for choosing the place?
*How many photographers/videographers will I have?
*How many hours will you be with us? What is the charge for any additional time?
*Will I be able to keep all of the photos electronically, even if I don't choose them for my wedding album?
*Can I have teaser photos or video in advance?
*When do I receive the final products (albums, proofs, etc.)?
*Would it be possible to show pictures from the wedding during the reception? {This is a common practice at Indian weddings.}
*Will I be able to schedule a few meetings in advance of the wedding to go through my schedule with the photographer and videographer?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

wedding review: Hyatt Regency (location)

Hyatt Regency Hotel - New Brunswick, NJ
{Location of all wedding-related activities.}
Review: They helped us turn out a fantastic event, and were very accommodating on most aspects. A few glitches here and there, but overall we were very pleased.

I'm still embarrassed to admit that the Hyatt Regency that we eventually decided on was the very same location as my senior prom! Sometimes we really come full circle, eh? As I said in my Wedding Tips piece about location, I was originally very much against the Hyatt, or any other hotel. One of the major reasons we signed on with them was cost - the per person fee was significantly lower than any other place we looked at. I'm not sure if this was a relic from the pre-renovation days, but for the look and service of the place, it was almost a bargain (considering that we had 350+ guests).

The good:
*The Hyatt was super accommodating. I worked with the Catering manager, Susan Moroney for the year before the wedding, and an events manager, Mary, on the day of. Susan was in constant contact with me, and Mary was truly an organizational blessing on our weekend. By the time we finished going around to each table greeting our guests, the buffets were cleared! Mary shuttled us into a separate and empty room and gave us full plates of dinner, desert, and drinks! It was the first 'alone time' we had as a married couple the entire day, and we truly appreciated it. The woman in charge of our room blocks, Anisa, was in constant contact with my parents, and bent over backwards to secure everything we needed for our guests. She even suggested we have 2 separate room blocks with different reservation cut-off dates, in anticipation of a large guest list and late bookers.
*We had several different events across the weekend - a religious ceremony and full catered dinner on Friday, breakfast on Saturday/Sunday, wedding and reception, and lunch following the reception. They worked with us to secure various rooms and staff for each day (e.g., we needed a certain amount of staff at our breakfasts to bus the tables and keep the silverware, juices, and coffee filled). We also were given stages and backdrops for our events, and other random things that we forgot from home.
*The fact that the hotel was exclusive with our caterer, Moghul, meant that we didn't need to run any sort of interference between the two...they communicated and worked things out seamlessly behind the scenes.
*The renovation made the entire place beautiful and modern. I had previously yearned for some outdoor pics, but the ones we got from inside the hotel are some of my faves. There were so many interesting details that our photog seemed to enjoy playing around with.
*We had such a large number of guests, that we were lucky enough to have the entire ballroom on our day, as well as the full atrium for our cocktail hour/reception. If we were to have less than 150, we might have had to share half the ballroom (divided by a moveable wall) with another party! Definitely a downside when you are really considering a hotel as your location.
*Because we had such a large party, and occupied the hotel for so many days, we were able to have some wiggle room in terms of pricing, etc. I believe we had several rooms (including full suites) comped by the hotel, and slightly reduced per-person fees elsewhere.
*The hotel was ideally situated for us and our guests. We ended up forgetting several random things at my parents' house...luckily our house was about 15-20 minutes away! Most of our guests came via train (from points north or south, or the airport). Also, the hotel is just off the NJ Turnpike (not as janky as it sounds, I promise), making it easy to find by many of our in-state guests.
*There were plenty of bars and restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, which is located not too far from the Rutgers University campus. Most of our guests chose to stay in the hotel; actually, having the hotel bar complete with lounge areas, a full bar, and pool tables, was a godsend for the afterparty...all of the younger people (and some older as well!) basically took over the area and enjoyed themselves until the place shut down!

The not-so-good:
*I had repeatedly asked if there were any other weddings scheduled for that day or weekend, and was told no. Not only were there at least 2 others, but one was another Indian wedding! And to make matters worse, my brother-in-law was the one to find out, when he overheard some staff talking at the front desk. The hotel staff did try to assure me that everything would be seamless and separate, but I was mad! In hindsight, because we had the entire ballroom and main atrium, we were, in fact, very separate parties...until the post-reception party when they swarmed the hotel bar! It did lead to some confusion with regard to distribution of guest gift bags at the front desk, and overall the hotel felt a little understaffed (they were probably stretched pretty thin). Did they lie to us? I'm still not sure, but thank goodness it turned out ok.
*We chose to load up Husband's ipod with music and pipe it in for our Friday night ceremony and dinner. At the end of the night, the ipod was gone! The hotel staff was very hands off here; they took no responsibility and put the possible blame on our guests! I am 95% sure it was taken by a staff member, but we will never know.
*Small gripe, but I asked for breakfast to be sent to our room for both families (called to confirm the night before and morning of), and it never arrived. We all needed our morning coffee to calm the nerves! My poor baby brother had to fill some bags with pastries and shuttle up coffee for us all! Our family was busy enough prepping for the ceremony and prepping ourselves, so this should not have happened. The request fell through the cracks, and could have been due to understaffing.
*The front desk staff was our biggest woe of the weekend. They were rude to our guests, and to us (the bride and groom)! They failed to give out many of the gift bags, claimed lost reservations, mixed up the wedding parties...the list goes on. They even lost our reservation for our wedding suite the night of...we had to book our own room after the reception! My only advice is to work closely with the Booking Manager, and try and meet all of the staff beforehand to get on the same page.
*Where's the cake? Our wedding cake made it out to the floor, but the groom's cake disappeared! It was definitely delivered to the hotel, but we never saw it. Some lucky staff got a chocolate and peanut butter treat. Hmph! Truth be told, I completely forgot about it until my sister-in-law asked the following week!

Overall, the pros outweighed the cons, but these mishaps only made us more harried and stressed. We were pretty explicit with our timeline and plans, but I think staffing issues (among other things) led some requests and responsibilities to fall through the cracks. With the exception of the front desk staff, most of our guests would never have known these problems, and we don't dwell on them at all!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

wedding tips: location!

Jeez now you see just how much I avoid writing/talking about all things wedding-related! However, I attended a good friend's lovely wedding this weekend and am totally motivated to make good on my goal here. First up, tips of choosing a location! You might want to pick up a regional Knot magazine, or a state-specific wedding magazine (if one exists) to get an idea of your general options. Now keep in mind...the way I approached my wedding planning was not THE way to do it. You have to do what's best for you, based on your allowances and limitations. That brings me to my first point.

1) Work with family and your fiance to jot down a guest list. Having a rough estimate of the number of guests really helps in narrowing down your options. Most Indian weddings tend to be large and all-inclusive. We estimated 300, and had about 380 at the final count. That hotel with wall-to-wall windows in its ballroom overlooking the New York city skyline? It could only hold 200 people. The country club a few miles away? Same story. Many people fall in love with a place, and find themselves restricted by a maximum number of guests....they cut guests here and there to make the numbers work. Having been on the other side of this, you run the risk of offending or hurting people. Now, this isn't to say you should invite anyone and everyone! But be realistic, be accurate, and be consistent in listing invitees.
2) Keep an open mind, and widen the search! At first, I was dead set against having our wedding activities in a hotel. It wasn't novel, and struck me as boring. We initially looked at restaurants and catering halls...later widening the search to hotels. Not only did I soon eat my words re:hotels, but I was really thrilled with the one we eventually chose. It had been recently remodeled inside, and had a modern, spacious look and feel. The ballroom had these amazing chandeliers that looked like raindrops. Everything down to the carpeting felt new and modern. It really seemed to suit us, and the staff seemed very friendly and accommodating...for this and other reasons, a hotel happened to be the best choice for us.
3) Crunch the numbers. We fell in love with one of the halls we visited, and nearly signed that same day! Husband - ever the cautious one - said 'hold your horses' and created a simple Excel spreadsheet for us to do some price comparisons. Since we were having our wedding and reception in the same place, most places first charged a flat wedding fee. For an Indian wedding, I believe the cost of a specific license and fire marshall is included (due to the traditional wedding fire). On top of that, you have a fee charged per person for any meals (breakfast, lunch), and the reception (with a slightly higher fee if you include an open bar). There will always be extras, but these basic fees should provide a good start. Once we crunched the numbers, we saw that we'd be paying nearly twice as much for the hall as we would at a hotel! With over 300 people on our rough guest list, costs added up quickly, and it became clear that giving in on the wedding location would allow us flexibility in other areas.
4) Think about your needs...can the location accommodate you? For example, if you are having the wedding and reception at 2 different locations, obviously you will want them within reasonable proximity to each other. But will you need to change at some point, and will the location provide a private room for you? What about meals? We had a dinner and Haldi ceremony on Friday night, open breakfasts Saturday and Sunday, and a catered lunch just after the wedding. Having our wedding activities at a hotel - specifically, one meant for conferences - opened a plethora of options for us. We were given distinct rooms for each event, and it enabled us to keep our guests informed and in one place. Food is an integral part of Indian celebrations, and the fact that our caterer had worked with the hotel in the past was a plus. Speaking of food, in the tri-state area (NY/NJ/CT), most of the bigger locations (allowing 200+ guests) allow outside catering, and many are exclusive with one Indian caterer in particular. We were lucky, as this is certainly not the case in other locations (like Miami, FL). If you want the option of having outside food catered, you may find yourself with a more limited list.
5) Remember the magic of decor. Don't knock a location off the list because it has ugly hotel chairs. You can always rent Chiavari chairs or chair covers and bows. Hate the walls or the chandeliers? Consider a decorator who works with fabric...loose drapes of fabric along the walls or across the ceiling can transform a ballroom. Peripheral lighting, bright and bold colored table arrangements, a knockout Mandap...all of these can help you create your vision. Look at the space as an empty canvas that you can beautify!
6) Think of your guests. Most of our guests were traveling from out of town - either flying into Newark airport or taking the train from points north or south. Our hotel was within walking distance of the train station, which connected to the airport, Amtrak, and NJ Transit. Most of our guests didn't have to worry about renting a car...we gave detailed instructions on our website and inside the invitation on navigating the public transit, and heard no complaints. Furthermore, having all of our events in the same place as the hotel accommodations was a huge plus, since we had about 6 hours between the wedding and reception. Our guests appreciated the opportunity to nap, change, and catch up with old friends.

These are the major points we used to choose our location, and it worked well for our needs. Below is a list of questions I had either beforehand or in hindsight...some are specific to Indian weddings, but most are fairly universal. I'm sure there are more exhaustive lists somewhere on the web, but this is a good start.

*How is payment calculated (closest estimate of guests or exact number)?
*When is payment due?
*Are the rates negotiable with an increased number of guests?
*Are rates lower on off days (e.g., Friday, Sunday)?
*Where exactly will my activities be held?
*Do you allow outside catering?
*Are there any other weddings planned for the same day? Same time?
*How will staff handle two separate and simultaneous events?
*Are there additional conference rooms available, and what is the cost of rental?
*Do you have any rewards programs (e.g., Hyatt Gold Passport program)?
*Who will be our main liaison for wedding activities? For hotel accommodations?
*Will we have any hotel staff to help with setup of specific aspects (placecards, menus, etc.)?
*Do you provide separate rooms for the men and women to get ready?
*How long are these rooms open?
*Are we limited to specific hours, and how will we be charged for additional time?
*Will you provide signage (e.g., room events, table numbers, etc.)?
*Is there an option to add items to the bar, or do a full upgrade?
*Do you allow signature cocktails to be available?
*Do you allow outside vendors to bring rented chairs, tablecloths, etc?
*How is guest parking handled?
*Do you offer a discounted hotel rate for our guests?
*Is there space for a post-reception gathering (ie: bar, restaurant, lounge)?
*How do you charge for breakfast/lunch for guests? Per person? Flat rate?
*How do you handle guest gift bags upon check-in?
*Where can I have the Bharat?
*What spaces are available for pictures?
*What is the waiter-to-guest ratio?
*How big are the tables and how many guests can be seated at each?
*What contracts and insurance pieces from vendors will I need to provide?
*Do you allow fabric or other decor to be hung from the ceiling?
*How many votive candles are provided/allowed?
*What space is available for the cocktail hour?
*How will hors d'oeuvres be distributed? Where will food stations be?
*Can we have an option of high/low seating at the cocktail hour?

*ETA (7/23) - It helps to know the general pricing in your geographic region. Standard per person hotel fees in New York City, for example, will be widely different from those in Texas. I didn't find it helpful to look at overall average wedding pricing either.
*ETA (7/24) - For Indian weddings, it is especially important that you book a place early. Most families will consult with a priest to determine the most auspicious time and date to wed (based on the bride and groom's astrologies). Our wedding date happened to be one of the most holy days of the year, so it was critical that we found a place for that particular date.

Monday, July 20, 2009

review: dior nude natural glow hydrating makeup

Diorskin Nude Natural Glow Hydrating Makeup SPF 10
Retail: $45
Review: Was not super impressed, and would probably not purchase. Coverage was very light and seemed to melt off partway through the day. Also clumped strangely in container. Color selection is still a bit limited. Added SPF is a plus.

Finally! A review that is not overflowing with praise! I attended a friend's wedding this weekend, and thought it was the perfect opportunity to try Dior's fairly new foundation. Slightly hydrating, it is a mineral makeup with a SPF 10. Thank goodness for Sephora...the SA 'color-matched' me and gave me a generous sample to try out.

This is not a product I plan to purchase. First, I am not an exact match for the colors available. I was given Honey Beige #40 - "a light mocha for medium complexions with neutral undertones." It was a bit on the yellow side, which apparently works much better for me than anything with a pink undertone. I received the sample on a Saturday, the sample had formed small, strange clumps. Yuck!

This unpleasant occurrence aside, I was less than impressed with the coverage. I don't like feeling makeup on my face, but I found this SUPER light...I suppose for someone who only needs minimal coverage it would be good for evening out skin tone, but it did not even cover the little redness I have on my face (around the nose and the corners of my eyes). It also required a fair amount of blending, which I did with a makeup sponge. I applied around noon, and by 4:30pm (after the wedding), it had already melted off! Even with a light dusting of some Clinique loose powder I had! While it does give a somewhat glowy look, I think it's no different than what you could achieve with a good tinted moisturizer (I like Laura Mercier's). My advice would be to try a sample (as well as samples of tinted moisturizers), and decide for yourself.

recipe review: green monster smoothies

For the past several years, whenever I get my bloodwork done at the doc's office, the resulting advice is the same - I'm slightly anemic, and need to up my iron intake. I also know that I don't eat nearly enough fruits or veggies. Even Husband, at his last appointment, was told to eat more leafy greens. In our attempts to improve our health and diets and drop some lbs, I stumbled upon the Green Monster movement. The Green Monster is essentially a leafy green vegetable-based smoothie. Its basic recipe (and the first one I tried) is spinach, frozen bananas, and almond milk. Blended, it's a sweet and satisfying drink, and only the true spinach loathers would ever know it's there (the bright green hue gives it away). Some brave souls add kale to the only experience with sauteed kale left me with a bitter, slimy feeling that lasted for hours on the roof of my mouth. Which means we'll be sticking with spinach.

My descriptions of the GM (as it's affectionately dubbed by converts) wouldn't even begin to do the movement justice. You must check out Angela's blog Oh She Glows for her experience and The official Green Monster Movement, complete with followers' recipes. Jenna's Eat Live Run also gives some attention to the GM. Regular GMs will improve your energy and make your skin and hair glowy and full of life. Sign me up!

As for us, our favorite version is still the 'virgin' GM. We seem to like using the original Almond Breeze milk, which is slightly sweetened with cane juice. The only version that we liked using an unsweetened almond milk was one with the addition of 2 T natural peanut butter - giving the GM a nutty, rich flavor. I have also tried adding various fruits to the mix - peaches, berries, and leftover melon and pineapples. The melon and pineapple proved to be the best additions, most likely due to the higher sugar content. We are researching protein powders to add to the mix as well, and have zeroed in on Designer Whey, Pure Protein, and Sun Warrior Protein.

Drinking your greens - who would have thought?! This is a smoothie even the lazy can make...with a quick rinse in hot water post-usage, you can avoid really cleaning the blender (an old and possibly gross piece of advice from my bachelorette days when I avoided doing dishes at all costs). I moved the toaster under the counter and made a permanent spot for our blender. Cutting up the fruits and freezing them in an airtight container the night before makes morning prep a breeze. As for time of day, many people have them post-workout, but we make them in the morning. On days I plan to do cardio at the gym, I'll have my GM and a small bowl of cereal. On days I just do Pilates or yoga in the morning, the GM is more than enough to get me through the hour. Husband tends to have bigger breakfasts, so he'll pair his GM with eggs (usually a piece of frittata) and/or 1/3 cup oatmeal. We are seriously considering eliminating the ACV concoction (which I still can barely choke down), and having a daily GM instead...that's how much we love them!

*ETA - I have seen options without the banana, but frankly, I think the banana really makes the GM. It adds a richness and sweetness that is tough to match. You could try a more substantial fruit such as cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, or mango...but for us, the banana is a must.
*Update (July 21) - Make sure your bananas are ripe! We made the mistake of using greenish bananas (the only ones we could find) and BLEGH! I still have a lingering and unpleasant taste in my mouth!
*Update (July 23) - We tried regular cow's milk today with spinach, banana, and pb and it was great! A tad thinner than those with almond milk, but still satisfying. Once the protein powder arrives that I ordered, I'll try that with regular hopefully achieve the same creaminess and texture.

review: F21 slowly improves quality & fit

I know, I know, I promised wedding reviews. They are forthcoming! But I really felt the need to write a bit of an updated review on F21. Because we are still knee-deep in recession, the clothing in the stores has been completely snooze-worthy. We're also at that weird in-between-seasons point...summer items have been in stores for a few months and are slowly being put on sale, while early fall is making its debut. Indeed, Nordstrom's Anniversary sale (based on the online selection, I'd recommend sitting it out) is just one sign that summer is officially on the downswing. *sniff*

Thank goodness F21 still has some funky and trendy summer pieces! In my last 2 orders at F21, I've been surprised at the quality and fit of the items. I also finally broke down and ordered a pair of jeans, and was pretty thrilled with them upon arrival. I still won't visit the Union Square store location unless I am in dire need of a cheap pair of costume earrings or something, but I am really encouraged to order more fun pieces and basics.

Definitely more then I like to spend on a single piece at F21, but I really fell in love with this print. The fit is tts, if not a bit loose. A tie-waist (yay no elastic) allows you to wear it totally blousy, or a bit more streamlined. I love the crochet detail at the neck as well. I plan to take this to Cabo, and wear it as a cover-up by the pool...would also work with white or denim shorts, or even some brown cropped leggings and flat metallic sandals.

What a steal! I have been searching for a lightweight skinny to wear for the rest of the summer. These fit the bill, with a perfect amount of stretch, and a comfortable 8.5'' rise. I tend to steer away from cheap-looking fading and distressing...the dark rinse and simple pockets make these look more $$$ than they are. The fit is tts to slightly big...I could have sized down to account for stretch with wear.

I used to be committed to AA's tees -- stocking up every season on my whites in every neck style. Unfortunately, by the end of the season, they are always dingy with stitching coming loose and slight pilling. Perhaps the washers I use are to blame, but really, for the amount of markup AA charges, you would think their basics would last longer than a single season of regular wear! F21's H81 tees are so soft and the perfect weight...not thick like Old Navy's basics, but not tissue-thin like Jcrew's. This one fit similar to my beloved AA summer tee. And at these prices, if they do fall apart by the end of the season, I'm ok with that. I sized up in this for a loose, casual fit.

This might be my fave piece, next to the floral tie top. It is lightweight, and a bit darker than the pic shows. It's also a great summer-fall transition piece. I plan to wear it today with some black cropped leggings and simple flip flops....come fall I am picturing it with dark dark skinnies, brown boots, and a statement pendant necklace. It has a preppy vibe, but the buttoned cuffs and pintucking keep things interesting.

Some things about F21 still irk me. Like the Union Square location (can you tell how much I loathe that place?) And the fact that their dresses barely skim a normal person's behind. And yes, the elastic hem on 80% of the pieces. The sizing is getting better but still not standard...Love21 runs HUGE compared to H81 which I find tts. Finally, the quality still runs the gamut from surprisingly good to pretty bad. But F21 still seems to be thriving in this tough retail environment, and if you're willing to dig a little and do some research, you'll be pleased with the items you can find.

*ETA - Ok so I stupidly realized the floral tunic top DOES have elastic. Oops! However, it is not a smocked elastic that I so very much hate. It's an elastic tie that can be loosened and tightened to one's desire. I still love it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

my big fat indian wedding

Ok, I can't take the credit for the title...I spotted it on Weddingbee and thought it was a perfect way to describe just about every Indian wedding I've been to. They're big, they're colorful, and they're detailed! With our one-year anniversary about a month away, I have yet to go over any of the work that went into our events (or choose our photos...procrastination much?) Now, truth be was months before I could even look at anything wedding-related, I was that burnt out and over it. But friends and family still tell us how much fun they had, or praise some small detail that I had all but forgotten. I knew nothing going into the process, and worked hard to figure it out along the way, but our special day turned out wonderfully and I'd be remiss if I didn't try to pass along everything I did and learned.

Planning our wedding was especially difficult for us. I was finishing up my second year of classes, and preparing to defend my dissertation proposal (passed my oral exams about 3 weeks before the wedding), while Husband was getting ready to graduate from law school (and take the NY Bar about 2 weeks before the wedding)! Both being the oldest in our families, our parents really learned along with us. It wasn't a painless process for anyone involved, and I definitely took away some lessons learned that can help everyone (Indian & non-Indian):

1) Book the major vendors early. In the tri-state area, wedding vendors come at a premium, and the good ones go fast. Esp. during wedding high season (spring/summer). I booked my location, photographer/videographer, decorator/florist, and caterer within 2 weeks of getting engaged (about 1 year before the wedding).
2) Budgets are nice, but hidden costs make them hard to stick to. Know what the average costs of vendors are in your area, and compromise on where to cut costs versus where to splurge. Many vendors will work with you on pricing and packages, especially if you are expecting a large number of guests. I have read that people who decide to spend a bit more on photography usually have little regrets...they decide to cut back on, say, the floral arrangements.
3) Delegate where possible, but plan in advance for setbacks. Our families were incredibly busy, so asking them for help at every single step wasn't possible. We also did a ton of DIY projects, which required lots of planning and prep. Even though I was pleased with how each project turned out, the stress of finishing them at inopportune times wore on us. This brings me to my next lesson...
4) DIY is not always cheaper or easier. These days, there is a vendor for everything. We made so many things ourselves...favor bag tags, name/table cards, signage, the weekend schedule, invitation inserts, etc. Between the cost of purchasing good quality cardstock and labels and the time spent planning and executing every project, I still wonder if it was worth it. Yes, it's a nice touch, but most people won't notice whether something is a DIY project or bought en masse. Do your research and price it all out. If you still crave the DIY look, Etsy can probably give you everything you want and need.
5) Don't sweat the small stuff. Similar to the DIY advice, it's so easy to get wrapped up in every little detail. Chiavari chairs vs. chair covers and bows! Hand calligraphed invitations vs. letterpress! The perfect shade of white, cream, or gold shoes! Honestly, at the end of the day, these things will not matter to you. Our DJ gave us the best advice on this...people care about 3 things...the food, the booze, and the your best on these and you can ensure a great party. Oh how true it is...
6) Give your family a break, and don't expect the royal treatment. Maybe it's because we were the oldest, with 3 younger sibs to deal with. Or maybe it's because this was the first wedding for both sets of parents. But we did and helped as much as anyone else on our wedding day. Family have quirks, and god knows they can be irritating and grating, but chances are, your fam has butterflies too on the big day. Our siblings were nervous about giving speeches, while our parents were hoping their friends would have a good time. I think too often, people think 'me, me, me' on their wedding day. But for us, it was about family and it was about our guests, and we never lost sight of that.
7) Surf! There are so many wonderful wedding resources online...blogs, forums, articles, etc...all of which you can use for design inspiration, dress ideas, vendor reviews, or general wedding support. I would save pictures of table arrangements, saris, or just random things that inspired the day. Lots of people online use polyvore or a similar site to create inspiration boards. I frequented Weddingbee for DIY help, and bookmarked countless planning blogs. I regret that I didn't document my own process as closely as some blogs do!
8) If possible, leave for the honeymoon a few days after the wedding. We actually had a second reception in Miami, where my in-laws are...this was held a week after our wedding. The week after, we moved me out of we didn't end up leaving on our honeymoon for over two weeks following the nuptials. We were rejuvenated enough that we could take in everything on our honeymoon, and really soak up the sun and culture. More on that to come...

I'm planning to write a series of reviews on my wedding vendors, along with some tips on dealing with each step of the planning process. With few exceptions, I was extremely pleased with them, and I know I had the hardest time finding reviews on vendors beyond I'm also planning to write reviews on our honeymoon, which we spent mainly in Greece, and then traveling through western Europe. Again, a ton of research went into the 4-week trip, and I would be remiss not to share it!

review: anthropologie behind the clouds dress

Moulinette Souers 'Behind the Clouds' dress (from Anthropologie)
Color: Comes in green and dark grey
Retail: $138
Review: Runs true to size. Lightweight material is perfect for spring/summer affairs. Strategic pintucks and bandings results in an extremely flattering and slimming piece. Love!
Everyone at some point gets caught in this position: You have an event coming up, and zero in on a dress in your closet you plan to wear...try it on a few days before said event and oops! It doesn't fit! This was the position I found myself in...almost suffocating in a dress that fit well just a year ago. Le sigh. On my 5'2'' frame, an extra few pounds translates to an extra dress size. While I wallowed, Husband insisted I go out and buy a dress that made me feel fabulous.

Enter the Behind-the-Clouds dress. Anthro has really won me back over the last few years. Their pieces have become more attainable, more varied...less out there and crazy like they had been in the past, while the quality has increased imo. I also like the somewhat elusiveness of Anthro. How many weddings have you attended where someone is wearing a classic JCrew silk halter dress, or a printed Banana Republic sheath from the season's collection? This doesn't seem to happen as much with Anthro...the pieces are just unique enough, and the store not yet super widespread, where this needn't be a worry.

I saw the Clouds dress on the site, visited Anthro on Sunday afternoon, and was immediately drawn to the vibrant green color, which I spotted through the side window (the downtown 5th Ave. location has the worst setup imo, but that rant is for another day/post). I grabbed both colors and headed down to fitting. The green is gorgeous and vibrant...more of a turquoise-y green than a true green, while the grey is an elegant almost silver-y black. The dark grey could easily be dressed up or down, while the green is the perfect punch for a warm weather event. The dress is 100% true to size, bra-friendly (a must for me), and would be flattering on just about anyone with curves (see diagram below). Fully lined, the top layer is a floaty cotton silk blend. It slimmed, it flattered, I fell in love. Ever the indecisive one, I ended up getting both. Husband's reaction when I tried it on was 'Wow!' It's a keeper!

*Update (7/23) - I might have to get the dress taken up a tad at the sleeves (curses my petite frame and larger chest). In many of our pics, I see bra peeking through. Oops!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

gratuitous midweek pic

We had all the sibs visiting in the last two brother, and Husband's sister and brother. It was so nice to have the place full with family. Husband took a few days off, we went to a Yankees game, and just relaxed. Now, it's back to the grind and we're feeling a little like this:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Viva Los Cabos!

It's official! We're booked for a mini get-away to Cabo San Lucas. I was a bit hesitant about the all-inclusive aspect at Dreams Los Cabos, but this appears to be one of the best. We're planning one morning of golf, plenty of time at the pool, and fruity frozen drinks. Ole!

review: pure & simple

Philosophy Purity Made Simple
Retail: Starts at $10 for 3 oz. up to $32 for 16 oz.
Review: Fans of clean skin won't miss the foam. Cleans well without leaving skin tight and dry. Nice herbal smell and pleasant lotion-y consistency. A little goes a long way...bottle should last forever.

For years during my battles with my skin, I believed that my face needed to get ultra and squeaky clean to be acne-free. I always used cleansers with either salicylic or glycolic acid, and ALWAYS bought foaming ones. Foam=clean, right?

Fast forward to this year, when a visit to the derm changed everything. My prescription for Differin made my once oily skin dry and even more sensitive, so my old foaming cleansers were way too harsh. I switched to Cetaphil on the recommendation of the Doctor. Cetaphil is a fine cleanser for the morning and after the gym, when I have no makeup on my face. However, it doesn't cut it for end-of-the-day cleansing. I don't even wear a ton of makeup...a dot or two of Laura Mercier concealer on dark spots, light brushing of Nars powder foundation all over, and Clinique blush to finish it off.

I had heard about Philosophy's Purity before, but was hesitant to try it out (having sampled and hated other Philosophy products). But, many reviewers praised it for their sensitive skin, so I decided to try the 3 oz. size from Sephora. Minimal investment, and I would always have a travel-appropriate one to refill should I stick with it. And I must say, I am in love.

The texture is a bit thinner than Cetaphil--almost a runny lotion. The smell is mild and sort of herbal...I imagine many people would be turned off, but it reminds me of my beloved Neutrogena Rainbath body wash. I pour a quarter-size amount into my palm, generously dot all over my face, and begin to cleanse. Rub in a circular motion for 30-60 seconds, rinse, and you're left with clean and fresh skin. It does foam up if you rub vigorously enough, but the foam isn't necessary for the job. I've been using this for a few weeks, and already I can see an improvement in the tone of my skin. Perhaps if I used this by day I would see more dramatic results, but for my current purposes it works wonderfully.

*Update (July 20th) - This is indeed a fab makeup remover...I finally put it to the test this past weekend after attending a wedding. On my face was foundation, translucent powder, bronzer, eye shadow and liner, mascara, and lip gloss. After scrubbing for about 60 seconds all over, my face was left absolutely clean and raccoon eye!

recipe review: coconut heaven

Coconut Cupcakes
Review: Light, fluffy, and perfect for a party or special occasion. The icing is a bit tangy and the perfect complement to the sweet cake. Process is MUCH easier if using a stand mixer.

I'm a bit ambivalent when it comes to coconut. When I was young, I remember my parents would give me pieces of fresh coconut to munch on before grating it for various Indian dishes. I also love me a coconut-based cocktail...Grillfish in Washington, DC had fabulous coconut martinis that came from soaking fresh coconut in the liquid ingredients. However, I usually turn down coconut candies and sweets in favor of chocolate, fruit, or just about anything else.

I saw Ina of Barefoot Contessa make this one random afternoon, and was hooked by just the sight of the fluffy finished product. The cupcakes totally lived up to my expectations. Yes, they are decadent and probably not the healthiest choice, but they are pretty much guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser (I made them for my sister-in-law's birthday, and even my brother-in-law, who is not a fan of sweets, loved them). As long as you have a stand mixer, this recipe is easy peasy! My recipe originated from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, which is a great addition to any cookbook collection!

Cupcake Ingredients:
*3/4 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature [3 standard butter sticks]
*2 cups sugar
*5 extra-large eggs at room temperature
*1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
*1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
*3 cups all-purpose flour
*1 tsp. baking powder
*1/2 tsp. baking soda
*1/2 tsp. salt
*1 cup buttermilk
*14 oz. sweetened, shredded coconut [found in the baking aisle]

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

2) With the mixer running on low [speed 2 on the Kitchenaid mixer], add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well [I ran it on speed 2 for 5-8 minutes].

3) In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In three parts, add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry [no clue why this is required, but who am I to question Ina?] Mix until just combined. Fold in 7 oz. of coconut (about half the bag) into the batter.
[I found the easiest way to do this part without getting flour all over the kitchen is to stop the mixer and raise the paddle each time before adding the dry ingredients. I used the shield on top of the bowl to prevent a flour cloud in my face once I locked and re-started the mixer. It's fine to pour the buttermilk into the batter as it's mixing.]

4) Line a muffin pan [I used the standard Crate and Barrel nonstick muffin tins] with paper liners. Fill each cup to the top with batter. Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing to cool completely.
[The next time I do this, I might just fill each cup only 3/4 full. As you can see in the pic, the top really overflows, making them a bit of a pain to remove. Also, these made 24 cupcakes and a handful of mini-cupcakes, even though the recipe claims it makes 18-20 cupcakes. I had to cook them in 2 batches.]

Cream Cheese Icing Ingredients:
*1 lb. cream cheese at room temperature [2 standard boxes]
*3/4 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature
*1 tsp. vanilla extract
*1/2 tsp. almond extract
*1 1/2 lb. confectioner's sugar, sifted

1) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts.

2) Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
[I only used 1 lb. of powdered sugar, as the cupcakes were already pretty sweet for my taste. Also, this makes a ridiculous amount of icing...we still have a small tub left over and I was pretty generous when icing each cupcake. I'd recommend either reducing the recipe or planning ahead on the icing's future use...ours will most likely be used on sugar cookies.]

3) Frost the cupcakes with the icing and sprinkle with the remaining 7 oz. of coconut. Enjoy!